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A New Jersey Mastodon
Originally Published By
New Jersey State Museum

By Glenn L. Jepsen

Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

Early in the 19th century the great French anatomist Cuvier concluded that, contrary to dogmatic ideas, many links in nature's chain had indeed become extinct. This included the elephant-like mastodon and the related mammoth which was a true elephant. Before the real differences between these two forms were observed they were both usualy called "the mammoth" and this fact has led to much confusion. In the long history of the study of mastodons they have been given many other names, and some of these now seem ludicrous and misleading. Common names in this country were The Great American Incognitum. The Leviathan Missourium, The Carnivorous Elephant, Ohio Incognitum, Elephas americanus, a Behemoth, The Pseudelephant, Le Grande Mastodonte, Mastodon giganteus and many others. Mastodon (Cuvier's term) was frequently used as the scientific name for the mastodon but unfortunately it is not the correct name because another formal name, Mammut, was applied still earlier to the animal and hence, according to the rules of nomenclature, takes precedence as the correct name in classification. Thus, Mammut americanus is the proper name for the American mastodon. This is doubly confusing because Mammut is so similar to the scientific name of the well-known woolly or hairy mammoth, Mammuthus. Many writers have simply refused to use the name Mammut even though it is correct because they prefer the descriptive term Mastodon. The best way to resolve this difficulty in nomenclature seems to be the use "mastodon" or Mastodon americanus as a common or general or slang term, and "Mammut americanus" where scientific precision is necessary.

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